On November 20, 1962—only fifty years ago today—President John F. Kennedy signed into law Executive Order 11063, prohibiting segregation in the sale, leasing, or rental of federally owned or operated properties, as well as those provided with federal funds.
Arguing that excluding individuals because of their race, color, creed, or national origin was “unfair, unjust, and inconsistent with the public policy of the United States,” Kennedy stated that it was the duty of the executive branch of the federal government to ensure that laws were fairly administered. The order read:
I hereby direct all departments and agencies in the executive branch of the Federal Government, insofar as their functions relate to the provision, rehabilitation, or operation of housing and related facilities, to take all action necessary and appropriate to prevent discrimination because of race, color, creed, or national origin.
Furthermore, Kennedy directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other executive agencies to help eradicate discriminatory practices through litigation and other means. He established a President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity in Housing charged with enforcement. (To listen to a tape of a 1963 meeting of this committee, check out this link from the JFK Library.)
The portions of the order that established and delineated the powers of the Committee were amended in 1980 under Executive Order 12259, which placed authority under the leadership of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and were again amended in 1994 through Executive Order 12892.
Six years after Executive Order 11063, the spirit of the order would be furthered through the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which included fair housing legislation and significantly expanded on previous legislation, marking a huge step in eliminating discrimination in one of the most basic elements of life: finding a home. Later housing policy addressed other issues such as accessibility and affordability.
To learn more about the struggle against housing discrimination, check out John M. Goering’s edited volume, Housing Desegregation and Federal Policy, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.
For summaries of—and links to—fair housing laws and executive orders, check out this page from HUD’s web site.
For summaries of other discrimination-related executive orders, click here.
To learn more about Kennedy, check out Richard Reeves’ President Kennedy: Profile of Power (Simon & Schuster 1994).